Why wait until you grow up to accomplish your dreams? One of Windward’s own, Manhattan Lower School student Abigail Berg, asked herself that question, and she answered back with a resounding, “Don't wait.” Abigail just coauthored her first book, The Gift of Being Different, a children’s book about a journey of self-discovery after a dyslexia diagnosis.
In the autobiographical story, the protagonist, Abigail, learns she has dyslexia. Quickly, she realizes that being different than other children is her superpower. She embraces the challenges of having a language-based learning disability like a true superhero: with grit, strength, and perseverance.
Abigail’s own path to Windward mirrored that of the main character in the book. At her previous school, she struggled academically, noticing early on that the books she was assigned weren’t as exciting to her as the ones other students had the opportunity to read. She explained, “There were three other kids in my reading group—we had a wall that separated us from the rest of the class. It felt weird. I would hear people playing a game while I was doing a worksheet. I didn’t like being separated, and I felt disappointed that I couldn’t be with the rest of the class.”
Abigail found herself spending hours on daily homework in addition to working for two hours each day with a tutor, which wasn’t sustainable. Her mom, Monica, said, “She was exhausted.” The Bergs sought out a therapist for a psychoeducational evaluation, in the hopes of reaching clarity of diagnosis.
This professional appears as Dr. Laura in the book.
“After figuring out that I have dyslexia, and going through that process, my mom and I decided that this message had to be shared with other people, that everybody has their own superpower,” Abigail said. Her mom added, “Once she realized what she had, she was so resilient in that process. By the second day, she was going around saying, ‘I have a superpower—it’s dyslexia. What's yours?’ I’m so proud that she reframed it as empowering rather than something that could hold her back.”
One message the Bergs wanted to convey in discussing the process of writing the book is that you don’t have to be an exceptional reader or writer to tell a story. “You just need imagination and the confidence and sometimes the support to put your thoughts on paper,” Monica said. Mother and daughter greatly enjoyed the process, holding deep conversations with one another before the story took shape. “Abigail communicates beautifully to me her vulnerability and her emotions. That really helped us craft the narrative,” her mom continued.
The process of writing together was so rewarding that they have planned a series of ten books, titled On Being. The series will tackle topics related to social, cultural, and economic issues, in addition to differences such as autism and Down syndrome. “The opportunities for the reader are to learn kindness, self-compassion, empathy, and humility,” Monica explained.
If there is one thing that Abigail wants other children with dyslexia to know, it’s that they are not alone, and there is a way to frame the diagnosis in a positive way.
“I know what they’re probably going through,” she said. “Maybe they think, ‘Why am I like this?’ and want to get rid of it. But if they were like anyone else, it would be pretty boring. If everyone was the same, what would we do? Nothing would happen. It's a good thing that everyone is different from each other. Everybody has a superpower, and they shouldn’t forget it.”
Windward agrees wholeheartedly with Abigail: All kids need to feel good about what makes them unique, and this is why it’s so important that, as a School, we both implement evidence-based programs and advocate in the broader educational space for adequate supports for all students with language-based learning disabilities. Abigail’s accomplishments are proof that, with effective instruction, students with dyslexia have the potential to achieve unlimited success.